Kuro-Yu, The Black Bath / by Jim Hathaway


Properly named, “Seven Dragons Water," is the great old public bath down the hill. The black bath’s water is the hottest of all the baths in Tokyo.  
There are two large baths on the men's side. One is very hot, the other is even hotter. About a year ago I found a thin young Italian man sitting in the hotter of the two baths. I marked him for a sento professional.
The larger bath is so hot that it tricks your skin. When you enter it actually feels cold for a second, then shockingly hot. The larger bath has a few pumped in bubbles that move the water. The smaller bath has no bubbler. Instead there is a large wooden paddle beside the tub so the visitors can stir before entering. If the bath is allowed to sit quiet the hottest water rises to the top in layers. I believe it would become lethal in a very short while. It was in this smaller, hotter, bath that I found the Italian.
I could not see his lower skin because Seven Dragons Water is black as Coke a Cola.  It is natural mineral water from deep in the earth below Tokyo. It was reported to be radioactive. A radon bath. There was a time that radioactive was a plus, the modern thing like electricity, magic. 
When the young man stood to leave the bath I saw how far the water had reached on his body because his skin was lobster red from mid chest down.
I spoke to him, “You must have a lot of sento experience!”
Moving closer I could see his pain. He said, no, that his girlfriend had recommended he try this bath for his health, but he feared it had nearly killed himself with it. I told him it was permissible to add water to the larger of the two baths, to cool it.  I showed him how. 
The smaller bath was kept near boiling for heat shock value, the reason regular patrons have such young skin and muscle tone.  I have never visited the ladies side, but a female friend said that the regular patrons have youthful skin and their bosoms stick straight out despite their age. She says it is due to the magic of heat shock the black bath offers.
The young man from Italy thanked me graciously for showing him the cold water tap and assured me that if he summoned the courage to ever enter a Japanese bath again it would be the larger of the two with cold water added.
The seven dragons water bath is in Ike no Hatta, not so very far from Ueno Pond. It can be a hard to find. It is at the end of a narrow alley off a small street. In Tokyo style, neither the alley nor the street are marked or named.